Adjusting his tie in the mirror, Kevin couldn't shake the mental image of this unholy, ten-legged ménage à trois. Did he wear protection? Did he fuck one while the other was forced to watch? Ironically, he would have found a full-page spread more palatable. Something like Dog Rapists Exposed: The Ins and Outs of Pet Fetishism. At least you wouldn't be left wondering. Kevin rubbed his chin with one hand and rifled through the motel's courtesy toiletries with the other.
From four-star to three-star is a long way down. It's certainly a palpable indication that your career is heading in the wrong direction. The shampoo bottles are smaller. The soap is bigger. You get a toothbrush and toothpaste but no emergency miniature sewing kit. Popping a shirt-button in a three-star hotel can fuck up your whole day. Then when your career becomes a job, you're downgraded to two-star, which is dangerously close to sleeping in your car. Kevin was so close he could smell the vinyl. He'd already rolled the driver's seat all the way back, just to see how flat it would go.
In this motel room, instructions on correct use of the facilities were plastered over every surface, in short strips of white-on-red Dymo label. Things like:
HANG TOWLS AFTER USE
But multiply that by thirty or forty. It's like every time a guest did something that pissed off the owners, they made a new label, so they'd be the last person that ever did it.
PLEASE USE BRUSH AS NEEDED
The handle on a toilet brush should be at least as long as the water is deep in a toilet. That's why if you're looking to mass produce toilet brushes, you probably should start with a prototype - unless your primary market is two-star motels.
The receptionist at the day's first job spoke like she had a dick in her mouth - too many closed-throat glottal stops and drawn out vowels. Kevin explained again to Mrs Dick-in-Mouth that he was only there to test the UPS, but Dick-in-Mouth was convinced that Kevin was the guy who had come to see about the problem with the letters rubbing off her keyboard.
"Look, I'm sorry," said Kevin. "I'm just the UPS guy."
Dick-in-Mouth went silent, and looked down forlornly, fingering the blank surface of a key with a painted nail.
Kevin didn't really know much of anything about Uninterruptible Power Supplies. He knew a UPS was some kind of battery for keeping computer equipment going in the event of power failure. He also knew it could tell a computer to turn itself off.
"Hey computer!" - he imagined the UPS would say, in that crazy language computers use to speak to each other - "The power's out, and I can't keep you running forever, you know! You'd better switch yourself off buddy, just to be safe..."
In Kevin's mind, computers were always watching each other's backs.
Testing a UPS was so simple you could train a monkey to do it. The actual bit Kevin got paid for - the "dark art" of UPS testing - involved pressing a button, watching for a green light, and ticking a box. If the light flashed amber, he put a cross instead. Then a guy much smarter than Kevin would come out and take a closer look. This was one of the more lucrative scams Kevin's company had running. In fact, they made more money charging out Kevin's button-pressing finger to customers than they did selling UPSes.
The company had UPSes everywhere, which meant Kevin travelled everywhere. At least when you're travelling it's new faces every day, so nobody notices you're getting fatter. For Kevin, sausages and mashed potato in a pub was always a guilt free evening meal. The condiments this time consisted of salt, pepper and a dirty ashtray. Dinner company was a man who looked like a walrus, watching horseracing. There were other tables, but this one was closer to the TV. Wide-screen equine action. First, second and third place went to horses with ridiculous names. The Walrus cursed into his glass and turned to Kevin. Kevin ate his chips and smiled. The Walrus eyed him suspiciously.
"Don't tell me you won?"
"Haha. No. Not me. I don't really gamble."
"Then what you smiling about?"
"I don't know. I know how you feel, I guess. You know, winning and losing."
"I thought you didn't gamble."
"Well, I don't. But life's a gamble, isn't it? I mean, every day, you're winning and losing at something."
The Walrus flashed a smartarse grin. "So what did you lose to end sitting next to me eating sausages?"
"Hmmm. Where do I start."
"Why? Is it that complicated?"
"Well it is, when you think about it. I mean where do things start, really? It's kind of like this story I was reading in the newspaper the other day. This guy, he's just been in a car accident. So the ambulance rolls up, and they put him in, then off to hospital, right? Wrong! They're on the way, and the ambulance gets hit by a bus! So now it's fucking chaos. Every ambulance in the city is running a shuttle service for all the injured bus passengers, and car-crash guy, he's hurt even worse than before. So they have to put him in a helicopter and take him to a better hospital."
"Did that really happen?"
"Yeah I told ya, it was in the paper. It was in Amsterdam or somewhere, but it happened. You know what I was thinking, though? What if the helicopter crashed on the way to the second hospital! Fuck, can you imagine? It could just keep snowballing. One accident just rolls into another, except every time more people get hurt, just for being in the vicinity of this bad-luck man."
"So what has this got to do with you?"
"Well I'm getting to that. See, my life is just one big series of accidents, like that guy. It's worse for me though. It started off small, but every little accident is like a setup, so I'm always in the wrong place, just in time to catch the next one. That's why I'm here. In this pub. In this town. Staying at a shitty motel. You know what really worries me though?"
"What's coming next? Like, what am I being set up for, right now? How big is my next fuckup?"
"You think people's lives have to keep getting worse and worse?"
"Maybe not everybody's, but mine does. It's not as bad for me as it is for car-crash guy though. At least I'm not dragging people into my snowball."
Finding how to get to the last job required an emergency install of PaperNav, which was basically just Kevin putting a map on the steering wheel. Some jobs were strictly after hours, purportedly because people didn't want to risk their computer system having a hiccup during business hours, but maybe also because they don't want the fat UPS guy standing at the counter rubbing shoulders with paying customers. Clearly, modern architects deprecated the tradesman's entrance several decades too soon.
At least the receptionist at this place didn't sound all dick-in-mouthy, and if you squinted enough and dimmed the lights, you could almost pretend she was attractive. She smiled at him, too, which was unusual. Usually the girl who draws the short straw to lock up after the UPS guy is all kinds of angry-face about having to wait around.
She showed Kevin to the back room, and Kevin waited until her form disappeared from the doorway before commencing. He liked to test alone. The worst part of being the UPS guy is that no-one appreciates the work you do. Your usefulness to society is invisible. Kevin envied people who stole all the glory for provision of trivial services. Like the guy who changed the water-cooler bottle. Or the man who replaced the Coca-Cola in the vending machine. Yeah, the Coke guys were the luckiest of all. Everybody likes Coke. Everybody understands Coke.
Unlike UPSes, Coke machines are out where they can be seen. People are embarrassed about their power supply vulnerabilities, but they have no hang-ups whatsoever about pimping Coke, that's for fucking sure. The Coke guys were always on show. Smiling at customers and chatting up secretaries. Plus Coke machines needed filling way more than UPSes needed testing. The Coke machine guy must be there every other day. Developing relationships. Building rapport. Yeah, the coke guys get all the pussy, Kevin decided, as he squatted over his work, pushing and ticking. That's when he sensed a presence in the room.
The receptionist was back in the doorway. Kevin squinted at her through the shadows.
"Your a travelling man, right? So you're staying somewhere? In a motel?"
What happened next fell outside the realm of Kevin's experience.
The receptionist undid her top button, showing the place where her cleavage would be if her breasts were big enough to fill the space in her blouse.
Kevin, couldn't believe this was happening to him. Fat Kev - the thirty six year old UPS tester who had never touched a woman's hoo-ha - was being propositioned.
The receptionist turned sideways and placed her shoulders against the doorway, arching her back so that her crotch was pushed forward. From Kevin's vantage point, her large nose was crisply silhouetted against the light from the LCD on her desk.
Kevin took in a sharp breath and fumbled inside his pocket for his keys.
Before they were out of the car park, Kevin's fly was down to the hilt. Within two blocks, she'd worked his stubby penis from his pants, and leaned forward far enough to take to the protruding tip into her mouth. The gap between the steering wheel and Kevin's gut was making movement difficult though, for both of them. Kevin's face puckered into a thousand-hamburger-grimace-of-regret as he pushed himself back harder into the seat, jamming her head tighter with every wriggle. The wheel resisted him, so Kevin turned it with more force, squeezing a discomforting groan from below. Panicking now, he grabbed madly at her wedged head, pushing it harder into his crotch in an attempt to regain control of the steering.
The last sensation Kevin felt was a dental receptionist's front teeth puncturing his stomach, as the car decelerated from sixty to zero to accommodate the power pole embedding itself deep into the engine bay. Five seconds later, a thousand TVs in a thousand houses went black. Lights flickered out. People staggered blindly through darkened homes to stand wide-eyed at windows and doors, peering into unlit streets and inky cul-de-sacs.
In the back room of a nearby dental surgery, a row of UPSes hummed cozily under the gentle glow of their own amber warning lights. The waiting-room goldfish jerked about in agitatation at the nagging alarm that had been raised - long, piercing beeps bouncing through empty rooms, looking for someone who might care. What the fish couldn't hear was the urgent bedtime story being told underneath it all. Words of guidance and support voiced in a tongue that only machines can hear. A row of blinking computers paused to listen attentively, then uttered an acknowledgment. Then together they tidied up their things, put their records away and drifted off to sleep.